“One must know what one wants to be,” the eighteenth-century French mathematician Émilie du Châtelet wrote in weighing the nature of genius. (From Brain Pickings).
Lots of smart people have spoken or written about being true to yourself. Why is that? What is so important about being your authentic self?
There are two elements to this. The first is: an authentic person is doing that thing which she was put here to do. The feeling of absolute joy that comes from being authentic is contagious, and that’s why authentic people are viewed as charismatic, agreeable, and engaging.
“Everyone has a purpose. And, according to Oprah Winfrey, ‘Your real job in life is to figure out as soon as possible what that is, who you are meant to be, and begin to honor your calling in the best way possible.'” (Oprah’s new book, The Path Made Clear).
The other element is the concern of authenticity preventing some from showing up. As Seth Godin puts it in his interview on the Tim Ferriss show, “Which means, and this is someplace I’ve gotten in trouble before, authenticity is totally overrated, totally. That I don’t want an authentic surgeon who says, ‘I don’t really feel like doing knee surgery today.’ I want a professional who shows up whatever they feel like, right?“
While I view that as a valid point, and I greatly admire Seth Godin and all the work he’s done (I’ve read a number of his books, some multiple times), I believe that this example is more about a lazy authenticity, rather than it being authentic.
The surgeon in Godin’s example is (hopefully) being authentic in being a surgeon. That’s what fuels his life. If he come in and says he doesn’t feel like doing knee surgery today, then it’s not in line with his authentic self. Or, he didn’t want to be a knee surgeon to begin with.
Authenticity, in my view, is something that will give us energy.
Now I do believe that we may find ourselves aligned to our authenticity, while not fully being authentic. That’s why you see so many Generation X and Y switching careers, rather than staying in one for their whole life. (One of the reasons.) Because they are searching for authenticity. But in the job you’re doing – the one you’ve agreed to do for the time being – you still need to show up. To do your best.